Meet Kristin Brown, Stephanie Lu, and Suzie Alexander, the faces of UW’s student mental health awareness campaign, Stand Up to Stigma, which recently won the second place prize — a cash reward of $1,000 — in the Mental Health 2.0 competition.

First-year PhD students, Brown and Lu, in charge of communications and promotions respectively, co-founded the campaign two years ago.

Alexander, a third-year student and the group’s activities and events director, eventually joined in the summer of 2012 when the trio’s paths intersected. Brown and Lu happened to be promoting the campaign’s soft launch when Alexander walked through the SLC. She was pulled aside by Lu to see if she had some time to talk about mental health. It was fate.

“She talked to me about how she wants to start this campaign and the purpose of it,” Alexander said. “I hadn’t seen anything on campus like this, so I thought it was very unique, and I actually asked Stephanie right there; I want to be involved, how I can get involved? We then met two weeks later and things took off from there.”

In a sit-down interview with Imprint the group described the reasons and motivations behind launching the campaign two years ago.

“For the three of us, the main reason we started this campaign is because we know somebody we love and care about that has struggled with mental health,” Brown said. “We saw with the people we love that they weren’t receiving enough support or were afraid to reach out for help. We want people to talk about the issue to remove the stigma … We wanted to start the campaign to show support to those students struggling on campus that they’re not alone, there are people here to listen, and resources to help them.”

Nearly 1,000 likes on their Facebook page later, the group’s campaign and message has not only spread campus-wide but has now reached all corners of the province.

At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the Council of Ontario Universities announced March 18 that Stand Up to Stigma won the second place prize 

After 100 submissions from universities all across the province, the group was second only to Brock University’s student led campaign, Cope-Care-Connect. 

The judging panel included representatives from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, CAMH, as well as the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

The group first found out about the competition when the director of Campus Wellness Mark Beadle approached them in September.

“He was the contact for Waterloo submissions; he said to us that this is a perfect competition for us and suggested we apply,” Brown said. 

The group submitted all their social media sites and a 500-word description on how they use social media to address the stigma surrounding mental health for the deadline in November 2013. 

When Stand Up to Stigma received the news that their social media campaign had come in second place, the group felt a sense of “shock,” and said, “It felt like we had a shot, but then again we underestimated how much attention the competition and our campaign actually got … It was definitely a good feeling to get some recognition for our campaign.”

They credit the 70 volunteers on their committee mailing list, who don’t necessarily attend every event or meeting, but are important in the planning and execution of events and to their overall success as a campaign in the competition and on campus. 

Once the results were finalized, the group spoke to social media experts who gave them feedback.

“The blackboard campaign was also another aspect of the campaign they liked because from a social media standpoint it is very effective in that it is widespread and engaging,” Lu added. “It puts a face to the issue showing that people are willing to get their photo taken saying mental health is important to me, adding a personal touch to it, instead of just liking a page. You’re putting your face out there, supporting the initiative.”

The group said one of their goals was to move away from the notion of “us versus them.”

“We’re no longer talking about the one in five who suffer from mental health, we’re targeting the five in five … the stigma lies when you break people into categories,” Brown said.

When asked whether or not UW was doing enough, the group said that there is room for improvement. They pointed to the accessibility of services as a provincial, system-wide problem.

“Mental health is such a sensitive issue. Social media increases our reach and helps start the conversation and helps to break the stigma because it takes courage to talk about these personal issues with other people. It shows people suffering from mental health that they’re not alone and allows them to reach for help in a less intimidating setting,” Lu said.

What’s next for Stand Up to Stigma? Unleash the Noise, a research study, is looking for students to participate in a five-to-ten minute video interview about what they think the mental health culture is like on campus. In addition, they will be running a mental health discussion group, where students can talk in a safe space about what mental health is and how they can support family and friends living with mental health issues. For more information see the Stand Up to Stigma Facebook page. 


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